In the commentary on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, the news and infotainment media have predictably framed the discussion by the question of how successful the CIA and the military have been in destroying al Qaeda. Absent from the torrent of opinion and analysis was any mention of how the U.S. military occupation of Muslim lands and wars that continue to kill Muslim civilians fuel jihadist sentiment that will keep the threat of terrorism high for many years to come.
The failure to have that discussion is not an accident. In December 2007, at a conference in Washington, D.C. on al Qaeda, former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Daniel Benjamin offered a laundry list of things the United States could do to reduce the threat from al Qaeda. But he said nothing about the most important thing to be done: pledging to the Islamic world that the United States would pull its military forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq and end its warfare against those in Islamic countries resisting U.S. military presence.
During the coffee break, I asked him whether that item should have been on his list. “You’re right,” he answered. And then he added, “But we can’t do that.”
“Why not,” I asked.
“Because,” he said, “we would have to tell the families of the soldiers who have died in those wars that their loved ones died in vain.”
His explanation was obviously bogus. But in agreeing that America’s continuing wars actually increase the risk of terrorism against the United States, Benjamin was merely reflecting the conclusions that the intelligence and counter-terrorism communities had already reached.
Let me begin by stating what this article will not be doing: it will not be addressing the racist – but also vapid and unimaginative – bigotry coming from far right circles in the ‘mosque’ debate. Rather than attempting to deconstruct that ultimately banal rhetoric, I will focus on an issue that remains largely unaddressed: the troublesome terms and conditions upon which “Park51” has emerged a ‘defensible’ endeavor within — not conservative — but ‘liberal’ discourse.
In the past weeks, we have seen how liberal defenders have responded to the ‘fear and trembling’ that the mere idea of a mosque induces, through a series of disavowals. Instead of challenging the racist assumptions that buttress such rhetoric, many liberals have decided to offer ‘clarifications’. Time and again, the public is being reminded of the fact that Park51 is not a mosque but an Islamic community center that promotes ‘inter-faith’ dialogue.
Daisy Khan and Imam Rauf, the leading figures behind the Park51 initiative, have not only repeated this mantra, but have in fact produced it. When liberal defenders have wittingly or unwittingly referred to Park51 as a mosque, the response from folks at the Cordoba Initiative has been gratitude in the form of this corrective: thank you for your support, but Park51 is not a mosque.